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Trump declares "love" for Australia as deal twists again

Politics

US President Donald Trump is still talking tough about allies but instead of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his sights, he is turning up the heat on Barack Obama for negotiating the Manus Island and Nauru refugee deal.

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Trump said on Thursday he loves Australia and will honour the deal struck by his predecessor but only refugees who pass extreme vetting will be allowed into the US.

“If a previous administration does something you have to respect that but you can also say ‘Why are we doing this?’” Trump, speaking to reporters before a meeting at the White House with US steelworkers, said.

Trump questioned the refugee agreement in his blunt, exclamation-laden style on Twitter on Wednesday night when he described it as “a dumb deal!”

This was after the Washington Post reported what was allegedly a volatile weekend phone call between Trump and Turnbull.

The article, Trump’s reported treatment of Turnbull and more inflammatory comments at a Washington DC prayer breakfast on Thursday morning about Australia and other allies had some analysts predicting the strong alliance could be damaged.

Later in the day Trump eased his rhetoric about Australia.

“I have a lot of respect for Australia,” he said at the steelworkers’ meeting.

“I love Australia as a country but I have a problem where for whatever reason president Obama said they were going to take probably well over 1000 illegal immigrants who were in prisons.”

Trump said the initial potential number of refugees could be 1250 but questioned whether it “could be 2000, could be more than that and I said ‘Why? Why are we doing this?’”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer confused the issue further on Thursday when he described the phone call between Trump and Turnbull as “cordial”, although at a chest-beating speech earlier at the prayer breakfast Trump did not describe it that way.

“When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it,” he told the audience of political and religious leaders.

“… We have to be tough.

“It’s time we have to be a little tough folks.

“We are taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually.”

Senior Republicans have gone into damage control mode to ease fears about the Australian-US alliance.

“Australia is a very central ally,” US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters.

“They are and will continue to be.”

Senator Lindsey Graham took aim at Trump’s use of Twitter, telling CNN he wished he “would sleep more and tweet less”.

The former member of the US Air Force who worked alongside the Australian military in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose father was stationed in Australia during World War II, said the alliance would survive.

He also showed support for the asylum-seeker deal.

“The relationship is strong and can withstand a phone call,” Graham said.

“We’ll be fine with Australia.

“The 1250 refugees we are talking about, if they are well vetted, we can absorb them.”

Senator John McCain, a Vietnam war hero, phoned Australia’s US Ambassador Joe Hockey to “express my unwavering support” for the US-Australian relationship and described Trump’s treatment of Turnbull as “unnecessary and frankly harmful”.

“Australia, they fought alongside us in wars including losing over 500 brave Australians in the Vietnam War, which some of us remember,” McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Under the Obama-Turnbull refugee deal Australia would accept refugees from central America.

– AAP

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